Doctor Who (Modern): S11E10 “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”

Series 11
Directed by Jamie Childs
Written by Chris Chibnall

Aside from the New Year’s special (which have never historically been considered a part of the season from an official or thematic standpoint), this episode brings to a conclusion of Series 11 of the modern era and the Thirteenth Doctor’s first year.  Quality wise, it’s been fairly even for better or for worse.  Before the season, the biggest concerns were Chibnall’s writing and the three companion structure and sure enough, the series seemed to peak in the episodes where other writers stepped in and the show never got a handle on what to do with the three companions.  Aside from “Arachnids in the UK” and “Demons of the Punjab”, Yaz felt largely forgotten about (not that she was all that developed in those) while Ryan spent nine episodes failing to endear himself or expanding much on his initial characterization.  Graham proved to be just about the only successful companion, but even he would often feel crowded out.

I’m not going to rehash too many of these faults though, in large part because I just did that last week.  While Series 8 (the Twelfth Doctor’s first season) needed to act as a creative reinvention after a modern era nadir in Series 7 that had left the show starting to feel stale (and which it did very well), the show this season was tasked with something more difficult, reinventing the show for the public at large.  To that end, it has largely succeeded even if enthusiasm around it has seemed to greatly wane since the premiere. Jodie Whittaker has proven that gender does not define The Doctor and has been enjoyable in the central role while the move to more self-contained stories which haven’t been pulling from the series’ past for villains have little to do with the issues the show has had, nor the complaints against it.

I didn’t expect the finale to tie up most of the lingering plot threads from this season (there have been quite a few, especially early on), but how it/if it handled them could have affected how I view some of those hastily resolved conclusions.  Then again, there’s always next season and beyond if Chibnall is trying to world build.

Two members (Andinio and Delph) of the Ux race have been spending their life building to a moment.  The two are the last of their species in which there are only ever two at a time and they have lifespans that last millennia.  As Delph (complete with glowy eyes) manages to psychically assemble some rocks, he’s intercepted by something splashing down in the background.  3,407 years later, The Doctor receives nine distress calls from the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos (which means “disintegrator of the soul”, a surely lovely place to holiday), a planet which distributes violent psychotropic waves and requires visitors to wear neural balancers to counteract them.  They land on a seemingly abandoned ship that sent one of the distress signals and meet Paltraki, the commander.  He’s on edge and can’t remember his name or much of anything after stepping outside for the battle though a neural balancer is able to slowly restore his memories.

His crew has been taken by Tim Shaw (or at least someone of his species) who demands they return some strange Stenza technology.  Graham tells The Doctor straight up that if that truly is Tim Shaw/T’zim-Sha, he’s going to kill it (because Graham is the best) and The Doctor gives an ultimatum of her own, kill him and you no longer get to travel with me (after first trying to get him to go back to the ship).  T’zim-Sha has been serving as a false god and “creator” since he was banished to their rock at just the right moment and plotting his revenge on The Doctor.  He is harnessing their powers to target planets and shrink them inside the minerals.  Why he didn’t target Earth first when it is the planet that banished him is just another contrivance among many, but maybe he was just wanting to save it for dramatic effect.

After a season of minor threats, this is the galaxy threatening one that the show had become overly reliant on during Moffat’s tenure and yet even with the added discretion, it’s kind of a letdown.  The big fix where Yaz and The Doctor use their neural balancers on the Ux to stop their attack on Earth and yet expose themselves to the planet seems doesn’t seem really seems to amount to anything more than a bit of a largely unnoticeable headache for either of them.  They spend a bunch of time hyping up the danger, but in the end, it doesn’t feel all that dangerous.  Then they use some TARDIS and Ux magic combination nonsense to send the planets back and everything’s back to normal.

I never though T’zim-Sha was all that special to begin with besides the whole tooth-in-face design and having him as the Big Bad is just kind of laughable.  He’s largely absent from his own conclusion as the episode doesn’t even pretend he’s intimidating.  His only power is his status as having landed at just the right moment and is otherwise too weak to do much of anything.  Graham can’t bring himself to kill T’zim-Sha, but he does shoot him in the foot to protect Ryan which I’ll admit made me laugh (especially his insistence they don’t tell The Doctor).  I guess this theoretically opens him up to return again (since he is just locked in stasis), but I hope we never see his pathetic ass again.

It’s a disappointingly mediocre end to the season, but I’m still hopeful for next season.  With any luck, the show will learn from its mistakes and it did have to reboot itself this year which was no easy task.  I felt my grades may have been a bit generous at times this year (hence a season grade maybe a letter grade higher than I’d have expected), especially early, but I think it reflected the optimism I had early on as well as a number of the flaws only becoming apparent over the course of the season.  Still, I left it satisfied and the much improved production values and smaller scale offer quite a bit of room to develop.

Grade: C+
Season Grade: B

Stray Observations

– The episode features Mark Addy (The Full Monty, Still Standing) as Paltraki and Phyllis Logan (Secrets & Lies, Downton Abbey) as Andinio
– At least The Doctor is honest about her rules changing all the time
– Yet again we have another set of disposable, non-threatening robots that provide easy targets to kill with no remorse.  The “have its cake and eat it too” of this “no killing” season.
– After last week’s breakthrough between the two, Ryan tells his granddad he loves him which just doesn’t have the same impact as the last one considering it did just happen last week.
– Thank you all for reading along with me this year and I hope to see you back in less than a month.

Next Up:  This is the end for the Thirteenth Doctor‘s first series, but I will return for “Resolution” on New Year’s Day which I may even get to watch live for once.  Doctor Who Classic, however, will continue in its typical erratic fashion.  The long promised Second Doctor serial “The Seeds of Death” is next up and will go live some time tomorrow, 12/10 (serial is watched, just needs to be finished writing).